Not every Masters fan gets to attend the tournament every day. If you’re in the area, but find yourself outside the gates for a few hours, undoubtedly you’ll look to scratch the golf itch by teeing it up. You can hardly call Augusta and its surrounds a public course haven, yet there are sufficiently strong options to make it worth the journey. Plus, many of the region’s private clubs will open their doors for Masters Week only, thereby raking in a healthy cash subsidy. Here’s where to vie for your own green jacket during your time away from Augusta National, each within 25 miles of the Masters action.
Of the private clubs in the area that open their doors during Masters Week, the most prestigious is the Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, an ancient layout dating to 1892 that’s located 40 minutes from Augusta, just across the South Carolina border. Alister MacKenzie, Augusta National’s co-designer, substantially reworked the course in 1932. Its cleverly contoured greens, gently tumbling terrain and history-drenched clubhouse (designed by Stanford White of Shinnecock Hills fame) are guaranteed to impress. It’s $225 during Masters Week, which includes golf, cart and lunch.
Many of the best rental homes during Masters Week are in Augusta’s West Lake neighborhood, 20 minutes from Augusta National. Its private West Lake Country Club allows outside play for the week. For $1,600 per foursome ($100 after 5 p.m.), you’ll duel with a 1969 Ellis Maples creation that dishes out slick greens, water on seven holes and a superb clubhouse, which sports an outstanding fitness center.
In terms of architectural pedigree, few clubs anywhere can match the 27-hole Champions Retreat in suburban Evans, a private club that welcomes visitors during Masters Week ($2,000-$2,300 per foursome). This is the only club in the world that features nine holes designed by Jack Nicklaus (Bluff Nine), nine by Arnold Palmer (Island Nine) and nine by Gary Player (Creek Nine). To post some Big 3s on your scorecard, you’ll have to avoid woods and wetlands. Celebrate afterwards with musical entertainment and southern cuisine at the Grille House and at the Bluff Overlook Sports Bar, or plan your own soiree at the club’s brand new, 10,000-square-foot events center, The Barn at Champions Retreat.
Also in Evans is Jones Creek, a 1986 Rees Jones public design that features rolling, tree-framed fairways, colorful azaleas in spring and green fees during the week ranging from $150-$225, which includes a logo hat and ball, yardage book, cart, practice balls and tees.
Set along the banks of the Savannah River, six miles from downtown Augusta, Ga. in North Augusta, S.C. is the aptly named River Golf Club, a watery, handsome Jim Fazio layout that dates to 1998. Big greens, bold bunkering and multiple lakes and wetlands make the 6,847 yards play much longer. Green fees range from $175 to $275, depending on the day and includes practice balls, yardage book, breakfast and lunch.
In the heart of Augusta, four-and-a-half miles from Amen Corner, is public-access Forest Hills. This 1926 Donald Ross design was substantially made over by Arnold Palmer in 2004, but in most respects, it remains same topsy-turvy track that greeted Bobby Jones in his Grand Slam year 1930, when he won the Southeastern Open. More recently, Patrick Reed spent serious time among the dogwoods and azaleas while he was a college student in Augusta. The $150 green fee includes cart, range balls and boxed lunch.
Without question, the most underrated of the Augusta-area layouts available during Masters Week is public-access Aiken Golf Club, in Aiken, S.C., Situated 45 minutes from Augusta National and not far from Palmetto Golf Club, Aiken charms with a 6,048-yard, par 70 spread that incorporates old Southern Railway lines, scrub-filled sandy waste bunkers, 120 feet of elevation change and greens restored to their Golden Age glory. It’s $100 per player during Masters Week and that includes cart and a first tee gift.